In this week-long series, we’re talking to HuffPost UK readers who set themselves a new year’s resolution last year that you may be considering for 2019 – and stuck to it. Their motivation could be your inspiration. Here, Deborah Millington, 41, from London, shares her story.
I think my love of sugar started when I was a child. I lived with my gran many years ago in South America, she had a sweet shop downstairs, and there were always sweets around the place. My aunts would make fudge and you’d have the neighbours that made sugar cane and cake.
Growing up, I became a real magpie when it came to bright colours and I absolutely used to love sweet packets. My mum would buy multipacks and they’d go very quickly. At school, I’d have a packet almost every day.
As an adult, I think it was also the hand to mouth action that appealed to me. I don’t smoke, I don’t have any other kind of bad habits, so the sound of sweet packets and grazing on them was something I’d got used to. I was very active so outwardly it didn’t seem to have a huge impact on my health. The only thing it affected was my teeth. The dental bills were huge.
I must have gone to the dentist at least four or five times in 2017, which cost a lot. My skin was getting worse and worse, I wasn’t sleeping very well and I thought: “I really need to look at what I’m putting into my body.” So in January 2018, I made it my New Year’s resolution to cut down on sugar for the month.
And I ended up sticking with it all year.
This time last year I was eating a packet of sweets and drinking a bottle of Coke every day – at least. I picked up the Coke habit years ago on a skiing holiday when I had the worst hangover ever. Someone recommended that a Coke would take care of my stomach and I’d be okay. And it seemed to work.
Back in the UK, every time I got a headache or something, I’d reach for a bottle of Coke. It got to the stage where I’d go into Waitrose or Boots on the way to work, and Coke and sweets were the first things I’d subconsciously reach for. I’ve never eaten breakfast, so they felt like a quick fix to give me energy. For a long time the first thing I drank in the morning was a Coke. Looking back now, that doesn’t sound great.
So I decided to go cold turkey and cut out both – the sweets and the Coke. I wanted to take back ownership of what I put in my body. It was about putting choice back into the equation. I was deciding when I wanted to have sugar, rather than feeling like I needed to have it.
To start, I changed the route I was walking to work so I avoided the temptation of the shops and I soon realised how much money I was saving. That kept me going! I was still having sugar but healthier sugar. I snacked on fruit and nuts, split peas and carrots, and I always kept a bottle of water on my desk next to me instead of Coke.
I was full of trepidation at the beginning. I thought: I’m not going to be able to do this, I’m going to get headache after headache and horrible withdrawal symptoms. There were times when I had cravings, but it was never terrible with cold sweats or anything. And after the first 21 days it was actually okay.
My colleagues helped me stick with it – they’ve all been really supportive. And because I was having those conversations with them, I felt I’d be letting them down in a way. That element of responsibility really helped.
I now have around a pack of sweets a week, if that. I’ve reintroduced occasional treats because I believe in everything in moderation. But a packet of strawberry sweets (my favourites) will now last three or four days, as opposed to when they would go within a couple of hours. I drink mostly mineral water, I don’t put sugar in my tea and generally when I do drink it, it’s herbal tea. I now get my sugar from seasonal fruits and I feel so much better for it.
Health-wise I feel like I’ve got a lot more energy now over a long period of time, which I need because I’ve started my own business on top of working full-time. If you’re planning to cut down on sugar in 2019, I’d say challenge yourself, but remember you don’t have to go all-in.
I think when you try to go in cold turkey about things you fail, then when you do fail you feel a lot worse about yourself. If you do overindulge in sugar, try to only have it every other day to start. Set yourself a budget and try to stick within that budget. If you have a chocolate bar a day, maybe have one segment each day and make it last the week, rather than eating it all at once.
The reality is that these things take time – that’s something I’ve had to learn – because if you’ve been putting this stuff into your body for however many years, it’s not going to be an instant transformation. But you’ll get there.
As told to Rachel Moss.